Liberty Safes, A Review Like No Other…

So those that are friends with me on Facebook may be familiar with a recent predicament that had unbelievable timing, and not in the good way.  I have a series of lessons that many of you can learn from as well as a detailed experience of the warranty system behind Liberty Safes and S&G locks.

First let me detail what I had and what happened.  Here is my safe pre-issues.

Liberty Safe

That is a 50 CF Liberty Presidential safe.  It has an S&G Titan Direct Drive lock.  I could go into details now about the different security mechanisms but I will get to that a bit later.  The way the direct drive works is you punch in the code, a solenoid fires, at which point you can rotate the outer dial unlocking the bolt.

As my wife and I were packing up the house for the first weekend of the big move and she discovered a few items she needed to put in the safe.  She went out to the safe and then came and found me a couple of minutes later, “I think I forgot the combo she said.”  Interesting, I’ll go and try.  I walk out to the safe, punch in the code, no click, nothing, 5 seconds later it beeps as if it relocked.  Odd, try it again, same thing.  Try leaning on the door, doing everything in the list of stuff to do to get the safe open on their website.  No joy, further I know it’s the right code because I punch in a wrong one as a test, I get immediate feedback.

So, we are on a time-table and we figure we’ll call Liberty next week and schedule an appointment with a locksmith and drive back out for it.  Well folks, here’s a customer service fail and a lesson for you all if you ever find yourself needing to call Liberty.

First Lesson:

Don’t try to start a support chain by email.  I sent an email to their support contact and NEVER heard back. We turned around and called 24 hours later.

Second Lesson:

Have your safe’s serial number on hand.  It is on the packet of information that comes with the safe as well as is on the inside of the door.  Do NOT count on registering your safe to save you. I figured they could look my safe up as I had registered it, they could not.  Pissed barely begins to describe my attitude as I had to drive 5.5 hours back to the redoubt in the wheat field, hoping I could find the packet of safe info with the serial number on it.  Did I mention I was in the middle of moving and had packed up a decent chunk of my office?  Luckily I had not moved that box yet and was able to find it.  I called Liberty and everything quickly went along changing my attitude from pissed off to mildly annoyed.  It was Thursday and the locksmith will be out on Saturday.

Getting into the safe:

The lock smith arrives Saturday morning and takes one look at the safe and says, “Well shit!  That’s not the lock they told me was on there.”  We take the dial off and try a new one.  We bang on the door with a mallet trying to make sure nothing is stuck.  Alas, my thoughts were correct.  We get to drill my safe and they gave him the wrong lock type.

This has numerous impacts on things like drill points and design of operation.  He calls a buddy of his and gets the info he needs and we set to work. 20140412_120637

So behind this steel door are numerous traps and issues that can cause problems for people trying to break into a safe.  What kind of traps?  Ball bearings are the most notorious of the bunch.  What do they do to drill bits I hear you ask?  This:

20140412_125406

 

We chewed up 8 drill bits that Saturday and it took us 3 hours to get through into the lock case. Ah but we got into the lock case!  FYI, we did have to swap out for a corded hammer drill. Here’s a view of what those little bastards look like in the safe.

20140412_134221

Another drill bit that died trying to reach the lock case.

20140412_194831So we’re in, the safe should just open now right?  Well not so lucky.  You see, the numbers we had for the drill point were off by about an eighth of an inch.  We found the solenoid in the hole, but there was a vertical bar behind it too.  Here’s a picture of inside the lock, you’ll probably immediately figure out what we didn’t know.  A picture is worth a 1000 words.

20140418_101715

So looking at that image you have the solenoid, the grey box with Summit written on it, the actual moveable part, the wider shaft, and then the fixed shaft it moves on the thinnest piece.  The solenoid moves allowing the large metal bar to move up and down vertically.  That brass part turns causing the bar to raise up.  We drilled in about an eighth of an inch too far to the left.  We were smack on top of the fixed shaft but didn’t know it.  We then punched through to the back to see if the re-closer had possibly fired, it hadn’t.  In so doing we had severed the metal piece we needed to raise.

At this point we decided to call it and continue at it this week, mainly so he could find the diagram I have above and figure out exactly what was going on.  Yesterday morning he arrived about 9am.  We drilled a slightly larger diameter hole to the depth of the piece we needed to manipulate.  Grabbing metal that is flush with a hole is difficult.  We chew up 3 more bits in that process.  Then finally we start grabbing the metal but it still won’t pull up.  I had the idea to find the solenoid and push on it some more just incase it isn’t actually clear.  Bang!

20140418_115948It’s open, now what?

So now that the safe is open, we needed to remove the old lock, patch and harden the hole we made, install the new lock and then we’re done.  First we needed to remove the safe door backing.

20140418_121211

Next we see the inside.

20140418_121743I have some observations on the interior of the door along with disassembly which I will get to later.  But you can see the old lock in the middle. You can see the external re-closer to the left of the lock as well.  You will also note there is a diagonal bar running from just to the left of the lock down to the floor on the right side of the door.  First we needed to remove the old lock, easy enough, pull three screws and it’s off.

20140418_122839

You can see something covering the hole.  That’s because in this photo we’ve started to repair the safe.  We’ve packed the hole from the back side full of a steel based putty epoxy.  The from the front we add 2 more things with putty interspersed.

20140418_122945

That is a hardened steel ball bearing about the same diameter as the hole we had to drill.  That however wasn’t enough for my locksmith.  He added this little jewel.20140418_123104

That is going to seriously suck for whoever hits that will a drill.  It is a combination of carbide and steel and had to be tapped into place.  Basically your drill bit is going to have serious issues with that hole.

But Barron, the hole is still there right?  Yup and useless since I am switching lock types the position to drill out the new lock is different.  Basically someone is going to put all that effort in and be disappointed in the end.

So now we install the new lock, this time a mechanical dial, the why’s will be fully covered in the end.

20140418_125138 20140418_125309

We set the combination and he even left me the key so I can change it again later if I so choose.  It actually isn’t terribly difficult to do.  So what does the safe look like after all that?

20140418_135418

 

You can’t even see the drill point as it’s under the dial.  So now that we see what all I went through to get this detailed review, let’s go over all the things I’ve learned, my observations, what I learned from the locksmith, and any advice that I can give.

Lessons Learned:

As I mentioned at the beginning keep that damn serial number on hand.  Preferably store it in a digital form that can be accessed even in the middle of a move.  I still think Liberty should have been able to look up the info given my registration but don’t count on it.  Just store that serial number where you can find it.

Locks:

Next up, Digital Locks.  Avoid them like they will fail you because they will.  I got that digital lock after seeing better reviews than the earlier motorized version.  The locksmith informed me that the reason the previous version had so many issues is they used plastic for the gearing in side and it would strip.  They still haven’t altered that design.  The direct drive overcame this problem.

(Well damn, I forgot to take a picture of inside the original dial.)  If I had known the digital lock was made in China from the start I would have never done it. Figuring exactly what did happen would have happened further, here’s a picture inside my butchered lock for variety.

20140418_124420

See that orange cylinder in the corner.  Yeah that’s an electrolytic capacitor, my guess to keep the voltage up while the relay opens.  Problem is those types of capacitors aren’t known to last forever, far from it.  No thanks.  I figure that the design is made to die shortly after the warranty goes Tango Uniform.  I got luck and gone one that failed early.

Further they’re prone to other types of failures as well.

Warranties:

Here’s a dirty little secret that no one ever tells you.  That 5 year warranty on your lock is from the date of manufacture, not the date of sale.  Safe manufacturers do this because the lock manufacturers do it to them.  A lock failure ultimately means you’re safe is getting drilled, thus someone is going to have to foot the bill.  Liberty, like most other companies, and understandably, doesn’t want to be stuck with the bill for the failure of someone else’s product.

So again, go with the mechanical lock.  While they can fail, they are considerably more reliable, especially when properly maintained.

Lock Maintenance:

The safe companies recommend having your lock serviced once a year. My lock smith said truthfully for most people it’s about every 5 years.  It’s worth doing because there are a few parts that should be inspected just to ensure the discs don’t slip within the mechanical lock.

Safe Security:

It took us over 3 hours with the proper equipment to drill into the lock case, total it was about a days worth of work to get it open given we were off in our measurements.  That’s also given the detailed information of where to drill.  Overall I’d say this was one tough nut to crack and isn’t going to be done by your average burglar.

That said the locksmith did inform me that criminals are now using gas-powered and battery-powered cutoff wheels to cut off the sides or back of the safe since they are not as heavily hardened.  Jewelers safes pour concrete in and mixed with that concrete is re-bar, carbide chunks, aluminum and copper.

To give you a bit of background on my locksmith, he’s been doing this since he was in the Navy back in the 70’s.  He’s worked on government safes, locks, SCIFs, etc.  He knows his stuff and he pointed out that often good safes are destroyed by amateur locksmiths.

Remember, the goal of a safe is not to be impenetrable, but to buy time.  This safe bought a lot of time even against someone who knew what he was doing and had the details in advance.

What has me upset:

Well beyond the fact my lock failed, which frankly doesn’t have me happy, is what I discovered as we pulled it apart and chatting with the locksmith.

First up is this failure.

20140418_125420

Yes, that is a gap in the fire board.  Sure there is another 2 layers underneath but it doesn’t inspire confidence in those 3 layers.  A simple strip of the heat expanding tape would have worked well for that spot.

20140418_125309So if you look at the end of the screw driver you will see a small rod heading diagonally towards the ground I mentioned this earlier.  This is to prevent you from opening the bolts on your safe while the door is open.  However this design has some issues and can result in the safe refusing to lock.  If this happens to you, feel around the bottom edge of the door furthest from the hinges, there will be a rod, push it up and pull it down to try to reset it.  If that doesn’t work pull the cover off the door and look at the mechanism.

Further on the website they give the following fire rating with no caveats:

Liberty

However if you look at the inside of the door to the safe you see the following:

SafeRating

*BTU rating based on 25cf safe

So does that mean a larger safe should have its rating degraded due to its size?

Conclusions:

Liberty does stand behind their safes.  They took care of all the costs involved with this repair.  Annoyingly had this happened in July I would have been on the hook for a lock replacement and the costs of the locksmith.  From chatting with the locksmith, Liberty is a respected brand and my main issue here was that stupid lock, made by S&G.

Would I buy Liberty again? Not 100% sure on this because of those few quality issues I noticed and this was on a $5000 safe. I am going to be contacting Liberty specifically about the gap and see if they have any comments on the subject.  Not to mention the lack of detail about their fire ratings.  I will post an update if/and when they finally do get back to me.

Lastly, if you do have an issue, get a real locksmith.  Seriously, someone who is well skilled and trained.  Evidently many smiths won’t get versions of the locks to play with on their own to figure out how they work.  If you’re in the Palouse area, I highly recommend Mike at George’s Lock and Key Service.

 

Barron is the owner, editor, and principal author at The Minuteman, a competitive shooter, and staff member for Boomershoot. Even in his free time he’s merging his love and knowledge of computers and technology with his love of firearms.

He has a BS in electrical engineering from Washington State University. Immediately after college he went into work on embedded software and hardware for use in critical infrastructure. This included cryptographic communications equipment as well as command and control devices that were using that communications equipment. Since then he’s worked on just about everything ranging from toys, phones, other critical infrastructure, and even desktop applications. Doing everything from hardware system design, to software architecture, to actually writing software that makes your athletic band do it’s thing.

About Barron Barnett

Barron is the owner, editor, and principal author at The Minuteman, a competitive shooter, and staff member for Boomershoot. Even in his free time he’s merging his love and knowledge of computers and technology with his love of firearms. He has a BS in electrical engineering from Washington State University. Immediately after college he went into work on embedded software and hardware for use in critical infrastructure. This included cryptographic communications equipment as well as command and control devices that were using that communications equipment. Since then he’s worked on just about everything ranging from toys, phones, other critical infrastructure, and even desktop applications. Doing everything from hardware system design, to software architecture, to actually writing software that makes your athletic band do it’s thing.
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14 Responses to Liberty Safes, A Review Like No Other…

  1. Rolf says:

    Now, of course, you have a good answer if anyone asks why you carry. “Because if I need a gun, such as during a break-in, I may not have a day or two to open the gunsafe.”

    Good review, bummer of an event. Never even heard of needing to service a safe or it’s lock, beyond keeping it dry and maybe oiling the hinges. Maybe I should look up the details on that for my safe sometime.

    • Barron says:

      So the other thing with mechanical locks he told me about was there’s two points that need just a little bit of grease.

      Thing is, if you have an idiot do it your disks are going to start slipping. My smith had an awesome story about some idiot in the navy who thought the key insert for setting the combination was a grease zirc. That is the story of WAY too much grease.

      First spot is under the dial between it and the back plate. Helps it run smooth. The other was within the lock and lets just say I watched him do it and I’d watch him do it about 3 more times before I tried to make sure I got it right.

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  3. Ananymous Coward says:

    Any safe is better than no safe. That said, the time it took to get in has be framed in the context of, “we were going to put it all back together again.”

    I took a class on physical security for my real job (.gov), and went to a demonstration on how to invalidate a safe, fast. There are a few things in your pictures that are really interesting – stuff they told us to look for. If someone with moderate knowledge wanted into that safe – or any “safe” that claims no more than a “Residential Security Container” – they will get in within minutes. So you got two choices: get a “real safe”; or make it hard enough to find and access the safe so that the speed-bump it is gives time for the alarm company to call the cops.

    But getting a solid steel, abrasion-resistant plate safe encapsulated with concrete fire-ablative material and then clad in another plate of steel might be a bit much for us people at home.

    They taught me the best thing to do at home is to get an alarm company that will call the cops. RSC containers are speed bumps, and removing time from the burglar’s clock is the only way to make them effective. The only way (they said that over and over again). After the monitored alarm: make finding the container hard; then make sure that it is hard to move; and that it not be against anything you can use to pry with (walls, posts, etc.). The thickness of the RSC is basically not a factor. Hand tools will rip into any RSC fast.

    Simple steel cabinets in the farthest, darkest reaches of your basement (under junk) beats the heavy Liberty safe in a garage full of tools, with easy access to a moving truck.

    Anyway, just stuff I learned…

    • Barron says:

      Oh I know. No matter what any safe merely buys time. As I noted in there if I had just wanted to trash the safe I could have took a cutoff wheel to it. Though your methods also need to be reflective on whether or not you’re willing to accept damage to the contents within the safe. You could always take a thermal lance to pop the bolts. Odds are in the process you’ll light the interior of the safe on fire and burn everything.

      It’s all trade offs.

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  6. oldnfo says:

    Well, the GOOD news is you got it open and repaired… AND it didn’t cost you anything! But you’re still out the time, effort and driving time. I think I’ll pass on Liberty when it comes time for me to upgrade…

    • Barron says:

      Remember, this was the lock that failed me not as much the safe. Any S&G digital lock, which they supply to most of the safe manufacturers will have the same issues.

  7. Zermoid says:

    How about the Digital/Mechanical ones they are advertising now? Better, or just twice as many things to fail?

    • Barron says:

      I chatted with the locksmith about them, currently there’s some issues still being worked out. The question is the manufacturer going to work them out. That said Fort Knox does have a hybrid safe that is basically two standard S&G locks, one mechanical one digital and the bolt design is an OR gate between them. Allowing you to use one lock or the other to open the safe. If you really wanted a digital lock, that would be the way I would do it at this point. And I’d go with the direct drive as the digital lock, faster and fewer parts to go wrong. He also told me how to get around the motorized version of the locks. Let’s just say it isn’t too difficult.

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  9. SD3 says:

    “…this time a mechanical dial…”

    Exactly. If it has electrons, I don’t want it. Mechanical locks do just fine.